Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Threads of Seafaring Connections

2010-10-08 Update: Before reading this post, I want to state very clearly - everyone was a beginner at one time - and you only learn by trial-and-error.  If you wait until you know how to handle every situation before leaving the dock - you will never untie the dock lines - or raise your sails to the wind.  Look with kind eyes on my friend's experience - in the manner of a teacher helping a student - seek to find the lesson - not to criticize the student.

Back in 2004-2005, I worked for a start-up in Bellevue, Washington.  By chance, a colleague became a friend after we discovered a mutual passion for sailing.  She and her husband now live in Auckland, New Zealand - and we have remained in contact over the years.  Through that connection, I came to know a fellow sailor who recently moved from Camano Island to Olympia, Washington.

During the period 2006-2009 I happened to work in Olymipia, Washington and made several good friends - one who was inspired by tales of my voyaging to take the plunge and buy his own sailboat.

This afternoon, a phone call from my friend in Olympia...a fire aboard his sailboat while he is in the middle of an afternoon cruise. The fire is extinguished...

But, he's not sure how to handle the situation... to get the boat back into the Westbay Marina without an operable engine?

...meanwhile I am 1400 miles away in Phoenix, Arizona

A quick survey of the situation:
- Estimated 15 knots of wind - may make maneuvering under sail in tight confines difficult

- Potentially strong tidal currents in the bay where he is sailing

- Darkness expected within an hour or so

- he doesn't have any experience anchoring

- not sure how to operate his VHF radio

- no dinghy on board

- no experience sailing his boat to a dock - or into his slip

- four persons aboard who are inexperienced in all things related to sailing

I do a quick mental check of possible actions:

First Options:
- There's a fairly long open dock just North of Swantown Marina - which could be approached with some ease
- Portions of the public docks near downtown Olympia (Port of Olympia) are long - and often wide open - and have long stretches that could be used to  approach with some ease.

However, with no experienced hands on- board - it could be difficult, tricky, or just plain dangerous for him to attempt to rely on their help in getting a mooring line secured as his sailboat might end up approaching the docks too fast - and it would be all too feasible that an inexperienced person might not realize or appreciate the dangers of putting appendages or bodies between heavy moving sailboats - and solid immovable docks.

Second Tier Options:
- See if he can raise Vessel Assist on VHF 16 - and ask if they have any resources/assets in the area.

- Call "Pan-Pan Pan-Pan Pan-Pan" on VHF 16 and request assistance from anyone in the area that might be available with a skiff and strong outboard engine.

We discuss this option over our cell phones as a viable approach...

I also make a phone call to someone that I have never met, and only know through my network of seafaring friendship - on the outside chance that a) he is in Olympia today; b) he might have | or know someone with a dinghy and outboard; c) has the time and inclination to assist a fellow mariner in need.

As it turns out he isn't in town at the moment - but his partner is in Olympia - and they think they know someone who might be able to help.

Phone calls are made - information exchanged - forces are mobilized - recovery operations commenced.

Within a short period - a skiff is spotted skimming across the water - a tow rope is handed and made fast - and within 90 minutes the boat is safely tied back up in her slip.

Lessons Learned:
- You can never have too many fire extinguishers on board.
- Learn to properly operate a VHF Marine Radio 
- It is exceedingly difficult to coordinate things via VHF if you have to keep leaving the helm to pop down into the cabin to-the-only-VHF-radio-on-board.  A portable hand-held VHF can be very helpful in these situations.  They are not that expensive - so splurge for two.
- Learn which channels are monitored within the community of your marina
- Get to know your dock mates - you never know when you might be able to render them assistance - or when you might need theirs.
- Learn how to sail your boat to/from a dock
- Learn how to anchor your boat (bow and stern)
- It is easy to become overly complacent and rely solely on the engine for maneuvering.  Practice using your sails while you still have an operable engine - so that you will be ready when you don't.
- If you go to sea, think about the value of having a dinghy on-board, even if you think you are safe in the waters within sight of your marina...situations can develop quickly - and unexpectedly.  A dinghy is a wise investment: think of it as your escape pod.
- Don't assume that a fire is necessarily a fuel/oil driven event - it could very well be an electrical short...and could quickly flare up again.  [note: Fiberglass will burn with great heat - and speed]

An excellent example of graceful docking under sail: S/V Too Elusive

Then again, you could try and pull a Captain Ron docking manuever!

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